Review – Michael Gambon in Krapp’s Last Tape, Duchess Theatre

Saturday 2 October 2010

Right well let’s get the obvious, inevitable, childish gags out of the way so we can move on.

This was the first time the Whingers had seen Krapp in the theatre.

And could Michael Gambon ever be Krapp? Unthinkable.

This production of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape comes hot-foot from the Gate Theatre Dublin where apparently Mister Gambon’s performance was acclaimed. Mysteriously, though, there is no mention of it having been a “sell out” which is pretty much standard in transfers arriving in London. Caroline O’Connor – The Showgirl Within arrived following “sell-out seasons in New York and Sydney”. Despite it being rather good, it can hardly have sold out here though. Former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter came to London with her “sell-out solo show” a few weeks ago. It is more conceivable that Love Story (also coming to the Duchess) enjoyed a “critically acclaimed sell-out season” at Chichester but even so, what does that mean? Every seat was full for every performance? Or was it full once. Or if more than once, how many times?

Anyway, Krapp’s Last Tape arrives to the Duchess Theatre, home of the beautifully restored and much lauded toilet facilities. Do you sense another Krapp gag lurking round the U-bend somewhere?

We happened to be there on opening night (which was aeons ago, sorry) and the critics were seated at 7pm patiently waiting for the curtain to go up but sadly there was no Charlie Spencer in the house to start a slow hand clap as he had done at the press night of Deathtrap.

Anyway, it went up 15 minutes later but as it’s only 55 minutes long it was neither here nor there really. Now we have to confess something: neither Whinger had ever seen Krapp’s Last Tape before although we knew the gist: one-hander, old man listens to younger self on tape and, errrm, well that’s it really. Oh and bananas are famously involved.

On this occasion it’s padded out with quite a lot of business so for the first 15 minutes there is no dialogue at all which is EXACTLY the kind of play the Whingers would write, but probably only if there were a Michael Gambon available to keep the audience on the edge of its seats in complete silence – apart from the mobile phone going off and what can have only been members of a TB hospital outing in the balcony.

Still, it didn’t quite ruin it and there was much laughter at Gambon’s delicate clowning, his breaking of the (already broken by a phone) fourth wall as he nipped in and out of the spotlight, looking at his watch and presumably wondering why the curtain rose so late and whether his Slow Cooker stew would now be ruined by the time he got home and and unpeeling, eating and – rather childishly – handling the bananas suggestively.

Krapp, like Gambon, is 69 years old. He is a shabbily dressed man who looks as though he would smell like a commonwealth games athlete’s Delhi accommodation block and celebrates his birthdays by playing recordings he made of himself years earlier.

Despite the plethora of birthdays under the Whingers’ belts this is something they have never considered, their birthday celebrations being limited both by their imaginations and by alcohol. And if they started recordings now would they still be around in 30 years?

The tape here, however, is one of thirty years ago and we watch Krapp reacting; frustrated, wistful and appalled at his youthful self-importance and idealism. Top marks here to stage management for timing the sound so perfectly with the tapes constantly being turned on and off. Some stage-hand’s digit must have been hovering over a button like a nervous game show contestant.

Sit as near the front on the stalls as possible, preferably towards the right for a perfect view of Gambon’s expressions. Phil thought he looked like a battered James May or Margaret Rutherford after a night on the tiles. His rheumy-eyed reactions to the tape are superb.

What it all meant we, of course, have little idea. Though by Beckett standards it seemed fairly accessible. An elegy to loss, disappointment and mortality? Was it meant to make us think of lives lived that haven’t fulfilled expectation? No wonder the Whingers were reluctant to delve too deeply.

There was a man stood outside the theatre grandly listing all the previous Krapps he had seen and he had the advantage over us; we have nothing to compare this to. We certainly can’t complain that it was too long, but we had a slight unease that a one-man show lasting less than an hour really should not set you back £35 for a top price seat, even if it’s Michael Gambon?  The good news is that it’s £20.50 at TKTS. For that price it looks like pretty good Krapp to us.


Rating score 4-5 full-bodied

2 Responses to “Review – Michael Gambon in Krapp’s Last Tape, Duchess Theatre”

  1. David Says:

    Well tastes vary of course. But I didn’t see any delicate clowning. Just some tedious, unfunny business with some bananas and a completely inconsistent characterisation (or maybe it’s meant to be inconsistent and I just didn’t get it?). The only advantage is that its short, but it’s still over-long.

  2. Jean Says:

    I thought Michael Gambon was superb, but that the play was pretentious – bit King’s New Clothes

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